I’ve never been much of a girlie-girl. Except for when my stylishly feminine mother directly controlled my clothing choices [see photo], I’ve been more businesslike in both clothing and demeanor. Early in my career, this no-nonsense, button down approach served me well. I entered the workforce during the Dress for Success era, when business women were counseled to wear what amounted to feminized versions of the male 3-piece suit: a dark skirted suit accessorized with a floppy silk “bow tie,” high heels and pantyhose.
Along with the sartorial advice came other business gems for “fitting in” to the predominantly male business world: take up more physical space, don’t end your statements with upward inflection and no matter what – never, ever cry. Back in the mid-1980’s, that was the way of the workplace. For the most part, it wasn’t a problem for me because I was, well, not very feminine. Moreover, I wanted to succeed. So, a little modification and sublimation here and there didn’t seem too steep a price to pay for increasing responsibility and plum job assignments.
Fast forward two decades. It’s now 2010 and one might think the advice I followed twenty years ago is out-of-date. To my way of thinking it is. But to others, it seems the “act like a man” mantra still resonates. Books like Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman continue to line bookstore shelves. Just a few weeks ago I read a blog post, written by a man, that said if women wanted to appear more powerful they should, “take up more physical space and quit ending their sentences with an upward inflection.” It’s déjà vu all over again!
Even though the same stale “success” advice is being doled out, I now have the wisdom and perspective to ignore it. Since the days of my dress-for-success suit, I’ve become a wife, a manager, a mother. I’ve buried my in-laws and grandparents and have struggled with health challenges. I now own a business and employee sub-contractors. Business deals have fallen through, projects have failed. I’ve logged countless hours in community service. Colleagues have both cheered me on and thrown me under the bus. Twenty years of living has helped me get very clear about who I am and what I will (and won’t) tolerate.
Like you, I’ve racked up some serious miles on my journey through life. It’s made me who I am: a strong, confident, woman ready to bring my whole self to the workplace. I no longer act like someone else’s version of “success”— male or female. I won’t apologize for talking about snagging a great pair of shoes on sale, nor will I pretend to enjoy discussions about sporting events. I will be me, which as it turns out, still isn’t ultra-feminine, but is 100% female.
For my fellow Women of HR readers, I encourage you to bring your best self to work, including (especially!) your womanhood. If where you are right now requires you to fundamentally change the essence of who you are, it’s time to start planning an exit strategy. Don’t be afraid to “woman up” and find a place that will embrace all of who you are, be it girlie-girl, super-jock or something in between.